There is one juggernaut racing franchise out there in the gaming world. It's not F1, it's not even Gran Turismo. It's Mario Kart.
The combat kart racer is the undisputed king when it comes to both continuous sales (it's still the best-selling physical game in the UK!) and multiplayer fun.
While sim racing is continuing to explode, kart racers and arcade racing is also a worldwide phenomenon that everyone is trying to get into, except Formula 1.
We have seen one attempt at a kart racer from F1 in the shape of F1 Race Stars. And it's time to bring it back.
The joy of racing
F1 Race Stars landed in November 2012 across PC, consoles, and iPad. While it only got a 62 on Metacritic it got mostly positive reviews on Steam and honestly still plays really well to this day.
The one thing a good kart racer does, and it's why Mario Kart has been so successful for so long, is create joyful chaos within racing. Its multiplayer focus, both split-screen and now online, makes it a game to enjoy with friends and family. That is something currently missing from basically every mainline racing title.
From iRacing to Assetto Corsa Competizione to F1 2021, major racing titles aren't designed for same-system multiplayer or even really friends playing. Because of the focus on skill, even a marginal skill gap can create a race between friends that is just strungout for lap after lap rather than consisting of to-and-fro battles.
That's the thrill arcade kart racers can provide, and it's something F1 desperately needs.
F1 Race Stars provides that. With its driver power-ups, item selections, damage, and of course rubberbanding keeping the pack close and the racing action-packed. There is only so far skill can get you in a combat kart racer before the better items and rubberbanding pulls the pack back to you. And that's only a good thing.
Hook 'em while they are young
Formula 1 in general has been trying to make its audience younger. While young drivers like Lando Norris and Charles Leclerc are happy to be more personable and even stream games in their spare time, creating a video game directed straight at the younger crowd would also be a big step.
Mario Kart continues to sell as well as any game out there thanks to its accessibility to children from an early age as well as nostalgic appeal to the older gamers. F1 Race Stars would have that same demographic to target.
If controls and mechanics were kept simple while representing the world of F1 it would be a huge coup.
F1 Race Stars track selection was small, but each cartoonish circuit had some key piece of a real life track. Be it Eau Rouge/Raidillon for Spa, Parabolica for Monza, or the stadium section from Hockenheim. It kept those unique elements while turning everything else up to 11.
Could Codemasters do it?
Codemasters is almost entirely focused on the official Formula 1 series. With each game getting a two-year development time it's hard to see any space in their current team for the creation of a quality kart racer.
However, their new parent company might be able to help.
EA's deep pockets could well fund the addition of a title like F1 Race Stars 2. With huge appeal to the Nintendo Switch market (a platform the F1 games do not venture into) and offering a completely different style of gameplay to the mainline F1 games, it would not be a direct competitor to the game. It would become a welcome addition to the F1 gaming family.
Are we likely to get another F1 Race Stars?
Sadly it doesn't look like it. Codemasters' focus on the main game, along with their litany of other properties like GRID Legends and DIRT, as well as the impeding WRC license they are getting in 2023 means adding an extra title is unlikely.
Instead, F1 Race Stars looks like it will be another classic game left behind, just like Midnight Club. That is unless we push and push. If the F1 community wants it, surely Codemasters will listen?
So if you are reading this anyone at Codies, bring back F1 Race Stars! Let is drift cartoony F1 cars through a Texas landscape or the streets of Singapore. Kart racing may have one monolith of a franchise in it, but that doesn't mean there isn't room for another one if it is well executed.